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Now and Zen, Bulls Pull It Off

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zen and the art of basketball resurgence:

The Chicago Bulls stepped into some mystical world Friday night and found a land where Dennis Rodman makes a big shot and Steve Kerr grabs a huge offensive rebound, as if that could happen in real life. Figure half of Illinois will be chanting along by afternoon.

The 93-88 victory over the Utah Jazz before 19,911 that came as Michael Jordan had 37 points brought not merely a 1-1 tie in the NBA finals but a reminder that the Bulls have not yet been banished to the spiritual side. Just in case any of the millions who had hoped to get rid of them, and real soon, got any bright ideas earlier in the week.

It remains what it has been for years--wishful thinking. The Bulls, who at times labored through the Eastern Conference finals, who appeared worn down in Game 1 two nights earlier, who are playing Jordan big minutes at age 35, instead are returning home with the needed split at the Delta Center, the Jazz’s home-court advantage having been erased.

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Karma, anyone?

“I just decided to use a little bit of the Zen Buddhism and relax,” Jordan said. “Instead of being frustrated, smile and let it flow, just channel my thoughts, my frustration, in a whole different form.”

Uh huh.

“And I kind of forced myself to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to enjoy this moment.’ It may not happen again. This may be the last time, last dance, whatever. Maybe I’m taking it too serious, but I should enjoy it. And that’s my mood from now on.

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“A lot of people were talking about age, how many minutes I’ve been playing and whatever. But we’re here and we beat some good basketball teams to get here, and we had to play good enough basketball to get here. So if that’s what they consider to be dead, then I don’t mind being dead for a little while longer.”

Another three to five games, for example. With no expectations that another could come like this, maybe even in the next three to five hundred. Karl Malone continued to struggle with his medium-range jumpers, finishing five of 16 from the field after going nine of 25 in the opener. Jazz made an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers that the Bulls turned into 33 points, and Utah was forced out of its run-it-in-their-sleep offense in the fourth quarter and even appeared hesitant.

And then there was the little matter of Kerr, the 6-foot-3, 181-pound shooting guard turning the game, and maybe the series, with an offensive rebound.

It came off his own missed pull-up three-point shot from the right side, at first seeming to put the Jazz in position to build on its 86-85 edge with about 50 seconds remaining. But when Kerr came in, gained control of the ball and dished off to Jordan for a three-point play with a layup and foul, the Bulls had taken the lead for the last time. That, and they likely had taken Utah out of the game even though 48 seconds still remained.

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“I thought that Steve Kerr played killed us,” Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said.

At the very least, it left them deeply wounded. Malone missed a 15-footer on the ensuing possession, part of a stretch in which four consecutive trips after the 86-85 advantage had resulted in nothing. After a timeout, Kerr was fouled intentionally and made both attempts from the line for a 90-86 cushion with 19.5 seconds left. All that remained was for the Bulls to make their free throws down the stretch and close it out.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” said Kerr, a hero in the same series a year ago with the jumper that clinched the Game 6 victory in Chicago and another title for the Bulls. “I think it was maybe my first rebound of the series. Probably. I don’t know. It might have been. But it was just a lucky play, really.”

It was. His first rebound, that is.

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So maybe it was only fair that Rodman got his turn in the bizarro world. That came earlier in the fourth quarter, with 7:44 to go, but it was his 17-footer, one day after being chastised by Coach Phil Jackson for taking a bad shot, that brought the Bulls into a 74-74 tie.

You were stunned? Rodman shrugged and looked incredulous most of the way as he jogged back to play defense after his only attempt of the night.

“Sure, he took everybody by surprise when he took that shot,” Jordan said. “But he made it. You’ve got to give him a pat on the back. I think once he does that more we can expect it and be in rebound position. It was kind of shocking, but he made it.”

For his sake.

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“That was a big shot,” Jackson said. “I think Dennis, as opposed to Wednesday night when he chucked some balls up at the basket, took his time.”

There went that chance for a commanding 2-0 lead. Long live the Bulls, still.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NBA FINALS

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Utah vs. Chicago

Best-of-seven series tied, 1-1

* Game 1: Utah 88, Chicago 85 (OT)

* Game 2: Chicago 93, Utah 88

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* Sunday: at Chicago, 4:30 p.m.

* Wednesday: at Chicago, 6 p.m.

* Friday: at Chicago, 6 p.m.

* June 14: at Utah, 4:30 p.m.-x

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* June 17: at Utah, 6 p.m.-x

x-if necessary


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